Social Security income shouldn't be considered in restitution orders

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Dealing with an issue of first impression, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled that Social Security income must be excluded when considering a defendant’s ability to pay restitution.

The appellate court has held that Social Security proceeds can’t be used to satisfy a civil judgment, but had yet to rule on the issue in a criminal matter. Rebecca Kays was ordered to pay nearly $1,500 to her neighbor following a misdemeanor battery conviction. The amount was based on the neighbor’s hospital bill and the court didn’t adequately consider Kays’ ability to pay. Kays’ counsel had argued that she only received $674 a month in Social Security benefits and was disabled and couldn’t work.

The judges reversed, finding the trial court didn’t do enough to inquire into Kays’ ability to pay. Sua sponte, the appellate court addressed whether 42 U.S.C.A. Section 470(a) precludes the trial court from considering SSI in determining her ability to pay restitution.

The judges looked to the Social Security Administration’s Program Operations Manual System, which says that these benefits aren’t subject to certain situations, including “other legal process,” and turned to other jurisdictions that had ruled on the matter to decide the benefits can’t be considered when ordering restitution.

“This approach comports with the purpose of social security benefits, which is to ‘assure that the recipient’s income is maintained at a level viewed by Congress as the minimum necessary for the subsistence of that individual,’” wrote Judge Melissa May in Rebecca D. Kays v. State of Indiana, No. 42A05-1007-CR-504.

The appellate court ordered the trial court to ignore Kays’ SSI when determining her ability to pay, and also sua sponte asked the lower court to consider whether it needs to recalculate the neighbor’s damages. The neighbor submitted a hospital bill for nearly $1,500, but the court didn’t inquire as to how much the neighbor actually paid out of pocket and how much her insurance may have paid.

The judges believed the reasoning from Stanley v. Walker, 906 N.E.2d 852, 857 (Ind. 2009), should be applied to criminal restitution orders to ensure that victims are compensated only for their actual loses. The lower court should determine whether the evidence submitted at trial included other documentation or testimony regarding the neighbor’s “actual cost” and if so, to recalculate her damages prior to assessing what amount Kays is able to pay, wrote Judge May.


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  1. I think the cops are doing a great job locking up criminals. The Murder rates in the inner cities are skyrocketing and you think that too any people are being incarcerated. Maybe we need to lock up more of them. We have the ACLU, BLM, NAACP, Civil right Division of the DOJ, the innocent Project etc. We have court system with an appeal process that can go on for years, with attorneys supplied by the government. I'm confused as to how that translates into the idea that the defendants are not being represented properly. Maybe the attorneys need to do more Pro-Bono work

  2. We do not have 10% of our population (which would mean about 32 million) incarcerated. It's closer to 2%.

  3. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  4. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  5. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.